In Missy, a tale of the adventures of an opium-addicted “flash-girl,” Chris Hannan brings to life the madness of a Nevada boomtown in the mid-19th century.
Missy is Dol McQueen, a 19-year-old mulatto prostitute who strikes out for the Sierra Nevada with a handful of other professionals in order to raise a little hell—and make twelve dollars a night—in the silver towns. Missy has another reason for going: her alcoholic mother, who in the past has ignored, mentally abused, and abandoned her, has already gone to the hills. Burdened with the unloved child’s psychological need to watch over her own abuser, Missy follows her mother in the vain hope of saving her from further degradation. En route, this laudanum-sipping flash-girl is forced, through odd circumstance, to hide a stolen crate of the purest opium. This opium—and its market value—give Missy hope of riches beyond imagining, and tempt her with its mind-blowing potency. Soon, however, all the forces searching for the stolen crate converge on the ungovernable mining town. Missy hauls her mother and a few friends into the brutal desert in a race to keep the drug for herself—and for the ironic chance it offers for a future.
Missy is raw, heartfelt, and thoroughly steeped in the era. Chris Hannan’s portrayal of a mid-century addict is powerful, due in part to the brilliant use of slang as well as his tasteful but gritty descriptions of a flash girl’s life. Missy is a hard soul, a self-deluded soul, and a lost soul, but her last act—though unintentional—gives the reader hope that she just might make it through the desert.
Dol McQueen is an irrepressible and frustratingly unreliable 19 year-old prostitute with a damaging addiction to opium—the eponymous missy according to the contemporary slang. Set in the virtually lawless Wild West of 1862, Dol and her small group of girls move east from San Francisco and take up work in a brothel in Virginia City. There Dol meets the local police chief, Captain Duffield, whom she hopes will take her away from the lowlife. He lets her down, but before going assists with a madcap scheme involving a hugely valuable case of pure high-grade opium. Not surprisingly, there are some very unpleasant characters also after this cache. Allied to this picaresque chase after the drugs, are Dol’s efforts to establish relations with her selfish, alcoholic mother, who is also happy to do tricks in the brothel for a drink.
This a rambunctious, explicit and rip-roaring novel narrated in the language of the times. It is also a time when life was cheap and casual brutality and violence the norm. Dol, though a charming narrator, is a deeply flawed and ultimately rather pathetic character. An entertaining novel, but somewhat shallow.
Lisa Ann Verge